On a chilly morning in Vienna, Ali and Rozh are sorting through boxes of donated vegetables. The two Iraqi asylum-seekers are volunteering at a food bank that distributes leftover food to those in need.

“We are happy to use our time for good,” says Ali Majid Abdul Razzaq Al Khalid, 32, a qualified vet from Diyala in eastern Iraq.

“There are poor refugees but also poor Austrians who live on the street. This was a shock to us when we first came here.”

While Ali and his friend, Rozh Ali, 39, a former marketing manager from Baghdad, wait for their asylum applications to be processed, they volunteer at Wiener Tafel (Vienna Table), Austria’s oldest food bank.

Located in a wholesale vegetable market, volunteers take fresh food that would otherwise be thrown away and give it to nearly 20,000 people in shelters and homes. Today, some huge pumpkins have arrived – volunteers are slicing them up and covering the chunks in cling film.

The aim is to give Vienna’s neediest access to better nutrition and a variety of foods they can prepare themselves.

Volunteers sort through boxes of vegetables at Wiener Tafel. Refugees waiting for answers to their asylum applications volunteer regularly at the food bank. © UNHCR/Andras D. Hajdu

World Food Day on 16 October is dedicated to raising awareness about the need to tackle global hunger. Over 821 million people globally suffer from food insecurity, and refugees and displaced people are particularly vulnerable.

People fleeing war or persecution suffer high rates of malnutrition, sickness and even death. With little or no financial resources, many refugee and displaced families live well below the poverty line and struggle to put food on the table.

Ensuring that people have access to adequate nutrient-rich food is essential for protecting the safety, health and well-being of millions who have been forced to flee. UNHCR strives to improve the health of displaced people through therapeutic feeding programs for infants, young children and the elderly.

For asylum-seekers in Vienna, Wiener Tafel has become a lifeline for those struggling to make ends meet.

Ali (left) and Rozh (right) volunteer at a food bank called Wiener Tafel that fights waste and distributes leftover food to those in need. © UNHCR/Andras D. Hajdu

At Ute Bock House, a shelter for asylum-seekers, most of the food is put away in a larder, to be shared when all of the residents are home. For lunch, some bread rolls, radishes, sweet peppers and mushrooms are laid out on a bench from which residents can help themselves.

Some of the residents are cooking in the shelter’s communal kitchens. Zura from Chechnya is frying onions to make a bean dish, while Lamin from Gambia is making soup. Fatima, a Palestinian from Jordan, has taken a green pepper to top a pizza for her family.

Back at the Wiener Tafel warehouse, Ali sorts cherry tomatoes while Rozh carries crates to a lorry parked outside. The friends arrived separately in Austria in 2015 and met in Vienna. Ali has a wife and four-month-old daughter, while divorcee Rozh is here alone. Back in Iraq, both men suffered sectarian violence.

“I come to work here every day,” says Rozh. “Wiener Tafel is like family to me.”

“All kinds of people are here to help out. There are no differences between us. Arabs, Europeans, Muslims or Christians. They are just people here who came to help.”

At a shelter for asylum-seekers, residents select vegetables for their supper. © UNHCR/Andras D. Hajdu

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